It all begins with Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, the namesake chef behind our Nobu tucked into the Crescent. Long before it was a thing, Nobu was doing Peruvian-Japanese, its vast empire (LA, New York, Milan, London) somehow managing to avoid spiraling into corporate homogeneity.
Perhaps because details seduce: the wall of black stones that glistens above the open kitchen like river rocks at the back; the stands of trees, ghostly birch boughs, like an enchanted forest from a Kurosawa film. You leave the Crescent’s lobby and enter Nobu’s jazzed-up Japanese world. But the quality isn’t lost in translation.
The menu is vast as the forest, but find, towards the end, the wagyu beef (all of Kobe origin). Fitting, for Texas, that beef would be privileged. There are seven wagyu options—far outnumbering restaurants’ usual one or two—four starting at $144, $36 per ounce across the board. The beef tataki is exquisite, presented in a sunburst: medallions of fine marbled Kobe slices that melt on the tongue, served with an acidulated ponze sauce, mounds of grated ginger and daikon, slivers of raw garlic, and a shiso leaf that lends a pop when torn off in a small piece. You did not know that shiso worked magic with ponzu and wagyu; now you do.
If there are South American influences, Tokyo-born Matsuhisa came by them honestly, working as a chef in Lima, and so you find a Peruvian-style tiradito of raw snapper, bright with lemon and chiles, the tartness, chile warmth, and cool, slightly fatty fish blending into a harmony vibrant as a sunrise. A salad of the fresh hearts of palm they keep on hand year-round arrives in great sheets, like ricotta salata, only juicier and more tender. I found the jalapeno vinaigrette lackluster and reached for the shoyu on the table, its salt picking up the natural butteriness of the palm hearts. For $24, I felt I shouldn’t have to re-dress my salad. Things come at a price at Nobu, where the menu is awash with prime ingredients and accented by gold leaf and caviar. But much is precise and memorable.
One of my favorite things to do is sit at the sushi bar and order from its list of specials, which includes what may be one of the most unsung in the city: torched tofu skin, yuba, presented on tasting spoons with tofu crema, an avocado sliver, and pearls of caviar as a study in the Japanese appreciation for soy. The coherence of the composition, the kiss of yuzu that’s so subtle—I marvel every time.
Amongst the small but good selection of sakes made specifically for Nobu, the black label jungmai daiginjo is lovely, complex and nutty as advertised. Dessert—even the tidy play on a cappuccino cup, filled with milk chocolate miso brulee—fails to excite me. I’d rather end my time in these enchanted woods with the black label daiginjo sake. And maybe a few more ounces of tataki.